Category Archives for "WanderStories"

Callum’s Year in Munich

Finding a placement abroad while juggling second year at uni was more of a slog than I expected, but it ended up being an interesting experience overall. I was employed as an intern at a tiny agency (5 full/part time staff) for au pairs in a small town called Freising, not far from Munich airport.

I had a Skype interview with the manager who explained what the job would involve and we agreed on a contract. The pay was less than exciting but I was glad to have landed something near a big city (I had actually already visited Munich before and really enjoyed the vibe). She also gave me contact details for a local landlady, so I was able to arrange a place to stay before booking flights and heading out ready to make a new start.

Landing in Germany wasn’t a completely new experience but the idea of it being my new home for the next year definitely sparked a bit of trepidation alongside the excitement. But I was committed to giving it a good go and getting what I could from it.

The landlady kindly agreed to collect me from the airport but due to delays and some initial confusion (she had an extremely thick Bavarian accent, complete with colloquial words I had never even heard of), I ended up getting a cab to my new place. On arrival, I realised my room was not actually a room, but an old garage converted into a living space, complete with a bed, sofa, hot plate and even a toilet. The kitchen and bathroom upstairs were used communally. It was quite a different setup to what I had envisioned but the rent was cheap and I was given some cake, so I soon came around.

I arrived a few days before I was due to start work so I made contact with family to let them know I was in one piece (using the Ethernet cable that dangled down from the ceiling connected to the router upstairs in the actual house) and then explored the town a bit.

There was a high street full of bars and restaurants with a big open square which helped put me at ease.

Then of course the work had to start. The business I worked for deals with placing young German adults with host families all over the world and finding suitable hosts for au pairs coming from abroad. It was my job as an English native speaker to check through applications for approval - mainly introductory letters to potential families, official documents and references. This involved contacting individuals by email or phone to verify their information about a candidate’s childcare experience. Highlights from conversations range from not being understood whatsoever to the contact only responding in broken English and declining to speak German, although I did point out I could manage.

It was tough and a bit awkward for the first week, but I powered through and became more and more confident talking to people. Besides this, I would keep myself busy with whatever needed doing around the office and head off at lunch to different places for a walk and something interesting to eat (proper German Döner is brilliant).

Outside of work, Munich city centre was a 30 minute train ride and from there you have a host of possibilities in all directions – bars, food halls, churches, department stores and markets, to name a few. I spent countless Saturdays there and could continue to. The beer and food is simple, but in my opinion it is done so well that some of the varieties on offer are the best I’ve ever sampled. Plus there was almost always a lively atmosphere day or night. The English Garden is a must if you’re anywhere nearby (surfing in the middle of a city) and Tegernsee is around an hour by train for some of the best lake/mountain scenes I’ve visited. Also within a day’s travel is Dachau, another worthwhile experience.

My personal highlight was visiting Oktoberfest – it really is as much fun as it looks, and despite all of the beer, not a rowdy or unsafe experience. Just good beverages, fun people and leather trousers.

Placement year felt like a huge amount of new places, people, and experiences in a very short amount of time. No doubt you will at some points feel overwhelmed but there is so much you can get from throwing yourself into all of the situations that present themselves. I would fully recommend it.

If you enjoyed reading Callum's story, let us know in the comment section below.  Thanks for sharing your story Callum. 

Marie’s Adventure in China

Hi, I'm  Marie and I recently joined the WanderingBrits Community. I am a keen traveller and so from the age of 14 onwards (first as part of guided tours only) ventured abroad by myself to get to know new places and cultures.

At first, just within Europe, but then I quickly gained an interest in the Americas and Asia too. One of my favourite further afield places was China.

I spent 3 months in China for an internship whilst at University. I was working and living in Qingdao, but also got the chance to travel to other cities. I had lived in the British Midlands for the few years prior to my China adventure, and oh boy, was I in for a culture shock!

The size of the cities, crowds and crazy traffic was completely overwhelming, not to mention those funny symbols and sounds that make up the local language and were completely foreign, to my  non-mandarin speaking ears and eyes.

However, I had a fantastic time. The people were incredibly kind, the cities felt really clean and in many parts much more modern than Europe, and there were beautiful nature areas around Qingdao that I got to visit. I also got to spend some exhausting and sweat-packed days, hiking in the local mountainside, during which I thought I was not going to make it back,. This was enough for me so I decided to venture back soon into the more comfortable urban sphere…

A(nother) challenge for me was the food. Although it was great to try something new, admittedly, I struggled a little. Chick feet and hearts, seaweed, strange looking fish, and what looked to me like insects or reptiles (is that a thing?!) were not, and are still not, my thing. See picture of strange sea slug things->

Don’t get me wrong, there were also extremely delicious foods out there. My favourite was a type of wrapped pancake, that contains a fried egg in the middle, and is typically eaten for breakfast. Also, their noodles were delicious, and one of my favourite sauces was one made with fresh vegetables and peanuts. Everything tasted so fresh and was just the fraction of the costs of a British meal out!

All this time though some treats from home would have been a blessing (for example, the concept of chocolate wasn’t well known where I stayed in China!), so it is a great idea to deliver British snacks to other travellers out there.

I hope to return to China at some point, with some better preparation next time though, especially in regards to the language, knowledge about local food, and improved fitness levels to re-tackle those mountains…

Zoe’s Story

Hi there, as the founder of WanderingBrits I want to share with you the story of how we arrived here.

The first pivotal moment was at 16 years old when a crisis emerged. I was inspired by both the brilliance of my Business teacher Mrs.Llywellyn and the sheer determination and enthusiasm of my Germany teacher Frau Watts. These were two of those very special people that you will meet only a handful of times throughout your life. Unfortunately when it came to deciding subjects to study at A level, both German and Business studies classes were conducted at the same time. After a very stressful 24 hours and a lot of negotiation, I was able to take both classes at once by alternating between missing one class and attending the other.

I was hugely grateful for this opportunity for about 2 weeks. It was then when I realised if I did not attend either class, I could go out for breakfast with friends and my misconduct would be unrecorded (I was 16 – sorry Frau Watts!). I also took advantage by plotting with the only 2 other pupils in my German class, by mutually agreeing to all not attend certain classes from time to time. Fortunately I did attend the majority of classes and finished my A levels with an A in Business, an A in Politics(don’t ask) and a rather underwhelming C in German. Never the less, this was enough to get me my ticket to university. Hello International Business with German and integrated placement year abroad.

In July 2015 at the age of 20 I hopped on a plane for my placement year as an investment banking intern in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It was glorious. The weather was 30 degrees and the sun shone for 8 straight weeks of festivals and roof top bars .I tried to make friends with every English speaking person I met.  I Moved into a pretty little apartment in the attic of an Anglo-German couple’s house who were more like family and had so many suggestions of things to do and places to go.  I even dated a German pilot briefly but it turns out pilots are away a lot of the time and it was never really destined to work out.

Financially I felt like a millionaire. I had a nice starting salary from the bank, I was able to receive my student loan, I had a grant from the European Erasmus programme and I was even somehow able to convert a tuition fee bursary into a cash pay out. As the responsible young adult I was, I bought as many plane and train tickets as I could get my hands on. Amsterdam, Paris, Dubai, Barcelona, Hamburg, Bonn, Cologne, Berlin and a few obligatory trips home to see the parents. I spent more money than I had ever seen before and to this day I think every penny was worth it. From all the people I met and all the strange hostels, boats, hotels and friend’ houses I stayed at, every experience that I had taught me something that I could never learn in a classroom.

However, around 3 months into living abroad the holiday ended. By now I expected that I would be completely fluent in German and life would be a breeze, but this wasn’t the case. I suddenly felt frustrated with myself that I wasn’t adapting very well. I was a bit lonely and rather miserable. I started to miss my family (whom I obviously hated during most of my teenage years). Actually living in Germany was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. All these German people kept shouting at me for breaking rules that I had no way of being able to understand. All the milk tasted funny. The tea was so weak that I was using about 3 tea bags per cup, and why on earth can’t I find a sodding bar of Cadbury daiymilk!? Above all I felt like I didn’t belong. Everything was difficult from catching a train to asking for bread at the Supermarket. By the time Christmas came I didn’t want to return to Germany.

Fortunately I did return and those difficult weeks turned out to be some of the most important in my life. They brought me a big step closer to WanderingBrtis. I stayed in Germany until the end of summer and I had a brilliant time. My German did eventually become fluent (but nowhere near eloquent), I learnt how to get through all those difficulties and fell in love with the simple and direct nature of German culture. “Entschuldingung!!”

Upon leaving Germany I was so upset I wished the plane would turn around and take me back. I had made so many friends and I had changed completely as a person. I was also very surprised at the reverse culture shock I suffered upon returning. Here I was with this amazing life-changing story to tell and nobody cared. Even my mother got sick of hearing about it after 5 minutes.

Luckily in my final year of University I found a Group of people who loved my stories- my university’s German society. This was a Group of people who met every week at the pub to speak no German at all. It was perfect. Many of the students that we persuaded to join us were from Germany and very keen to practice their English over a few Jager Bombs and we were more than happy to help them. These friends were like family and we connected over a shared understanding of culture and empathy.

When the opportunity came to return to Germany on a graduate programme, I couldn’t wait. I moved to Dusseldorf this time and it was so much easier. I knew how to find friends and how to use public transport and I wished somebody had told me all of this the first time I moved abroad. 4 months into living in Dusseldorf my company moved me to Bad Oeynhausen (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either). It is roughly an hour and a half from Hannover and is exactly in the middle of nowhere. I walked past cornfields for 40 minutes every day to get to the office that overlooked a field of horses. This was the real challenge as there was no expat community to slot myself into. I learned to appreciate the countryside, discovered some local spa baths (where everyone was naked) and generally had a very peaceful time.

Now I am back in the UK again I truly appreciate how easy it is to purchase a bar of Cadbury’s Dairymilk. I have completed all of my studies to become fully qualified and I am terrified at the thought of having to fill too much free time after all the studying ends. I also really miss my community of expat buddies who were so open minded and well-travelled, interesting people. That’s why I decided to start up the ultimate side hustle to create a virtual community of WanderingBrits and hopefully I am in the fortunate position where I can now send them some Dairymilks to wherever they happen to be wandering in their journeys too.

Day 1 in a foreign land

I will always remember the exact moment I moved abroad. After leaving my family and packing my entire life into a suitcase, I landed in my new home. I wandered into the arrivals hall and was utterly overwhelmed. It was busy and bustling but there was nobody there. Nobody who had any interest in me whatsoever.

The whole world lay at my feet and I had no idea what to do with it. There were crowds of drivers with signs but my name was nowhere to be seen. Nobody was waiting for me. For the first time I was standing on my own two feet and it was terrifying.

Eventually I found my way to a taxi and arrived at the most budget of budget hotels right next to Frankfurt main station that would be my home for the next month. There was a double bed, a shower room with a transparent wall around it and air conditioning. There was no wardrobe and you had to pay for the TV and Wifi by the day.  I had left myself exactly one day to get all my affairs in order before starting my new job.  The first thing I had to do was get to the town hall to register myself as a citizen.  I walked past all the questionable characters, the police car which appeared to be permanently stationed outside of my hotel and popped across the road to the central station. It was huge. There were 3 different levels, there were trains and S trains and U trains and trams and buses and coaches. I had no idea how any of these public transport systems worked. There was an information desk so I tried using some of my best German to ask for instructions. The friendly looking chap behind the glass screen and blurted out some very fast German which made no sense whatsoever. Like a true Brit I smiled, nodded, said thank you and walked away. I then had a look at the ticket machines. I pressed a few buttons and the screen seemed to be in English but that didn’t make much sense either. I then asked another member of the transport staff (this time in English) how to get to the address that I had written down. He then found the single ticket option on the ticket machine, told me that I needed the U8 underground and pointed at the stairs. 40 minutes later I had managed to print a ticket and get on the train to find that the journey took exactly 120 seconds and that I could have walked there in 10 minutes.

I arrived at the town hall where 5 million other people were waiting to be registered and most of them seemed to have brought their entire families. Eventually I was thrilled when my number was called and I sat with a very kind staff member who spoke excellent English. I ended up getting registered as a resident of my hotel which most of my German friends later found hilarious and didn’t even know it was possible. I was awarded a little welcome book and I was officially a German resident. I was thrilled. I then decided that I needed some internet access so I headed towards a phone shop where I was charged an extortionate price for a German sim card which I was amazed to find out included something I can only describe as slow internet. So with German sim cards you seemed to pay for a certain amount of data but when you had used up all of your data you had an apparently unlimited amount of ‘slow internet’ which was perfect for messaging friends and meant that I very rarely had to pay for any data.

I felt so accomplished at having become a German resident and obtaining a German sim card all in one day. I had a wander around the high street and practiced saying “Nein Danke” to any shop assistants who asked me questions that I did not understand. I had a Starbucks where the staff speak perfect English and I then returned to hide in my hotel room and eat mini chocolate biscuits out of the vending machine.

Luckily I got much better at using my German skills to communicate and after 2 weeks I did stop going to the vending machine for dinner. A lot of my early days in Frankfurt were about surviving but it was a time I will always laugh about.

The 3 Month Slump

So you’ve made the leap and moved abroad. You’ve got the dream job, relationship or placement that you’ve been working so hard for and everything is fantastic.

But all of a sudden you have this strange feeling that won’t budge. You like living abroad and making great memories but everything is so difficult and draining. It’s a story I’ve heard over and over again from almost every expat I know (myself included).

About 3 months into your new life abroad, a slump occurs. The dream of living abroad on a full time holiday has well and truly worn off, and you are left flustered, struggling to ask for bread in the supermarket. This is the point where everything feels difficult. You have put in so much effort to adapt to the local way of life and learn the language and it feels like you have gotten nowhere.

At this point you’ve tried all the new foods in the supermarket and seen most of the local bars.  You have no idea what that woman is shouting at you for, you can’t find your favourite chocolate in the supermarket and why do I feel like random people keep telling me off!!????

You may have experienced this slump first hand, recognise it happening to friends or you may still have it all to come. The truth is, the slump is just the strong grip of reality, dragging you back to earth. You are not on holiday. You are not abroad to wander around and enjoy yourself. You are there for a purpose and this reality is just sinking in.

The slump that is now hitting you in the face is the pain of personal growth. It may not make sense until you have lived through those feelings of unfamiliarity and not belonging that come with being ‘foreign’. This is the key point in your new life where you are gaining the skills that will stay with you forever. This is the beginning of true cultural understanding. You now know how difficult it is to adapt to a new place where you don’t naturally belong which will give you a lasting sense of empathy when you encounter others struggling with their language skills or looking confused in a supermarket.

The good new is, it doesn’t last. Soon you will begin to thrive in your new environment, but until then there’s plenty you can do to make yourself feel better about your new home.

The first thing is giving yourself some credit. Remember where you were on your first day and where you are now. You’ve figured out how to get the right ticket for public transport, you got your new apartment all set up, you figured out how to order food or what the city looks like on a map or you made new friends and they may even have invited you out with them. You’re doing great and you got this.

It may take a few weeks or even months for those feelings to fade so speak to your friends and family back home, dig into that stash of home snacks you’ve been holding onto and watch your favourite film in your native language.

You are not expected to adapt to your new life overnight. Take on each challenge as it comes and give yourself time. Moving abroad is a big change but you definitely are capable.